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Government scales back free driver’s licence re-sits over wait times

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The government is cracking down on waitlists for driver’s licences by scaling back the eligibility for free test re-sits.

It reverses a decision made by the previous government last year, which replaced re-sit fees for theory and practical tests with an upfront all-inclusive fee. It was hoped those changes would save drivers $86 each on average.

But Transport Minister Simeon Brown said it had led to “unacceptable” wait times and no-shows, and an increase in failure rates.

Brown said in some parts of the country, applicants were waiting more than 60 days to sit their tests, up from an average 13 days in the three months prior to the previous government’s changes.

From 8 July, applicants for Class 1 theory and practical tests will only be eligible for one free re-sit, and will be required to pay for any additional tests, while overseas licence conversions will no longer be eligible for free re-sits.

“Our government has sought to take a balanced approach to this issue by limiting the number of free re-sits to get these wait times under control,” Brown said.

“These changes will reduce no-shows and incentivise driver licence applicants to prepare and pass their tests, reducing the driver licence backlog, while continuing to ensure that Class 1 applicants remain eligible for a free re-sit.”

Labour’s Transport spokesperson Tangi Utikere said it would impose another cost on motorists, in addition to the reversal of the Clean Car Discount and a planned 12-cents per litre increase to fuel excise from 2027.

He said the removal of re-sit fees also removed barriers for people who may have struggled to get a license, including to get into employment.

“Not everyone is able to get their license on the first go. But this is going to penalise those who want to make a real go of it and do the right thing,” Utikere said.

“We know that for many people, getting a drivers license is also a pathway to employment, and so that’s going to be another deterrent, and disappointing for many.”

Brown said NZTA would also address the backlog by recruiting more driver testing officers, and increasing the number of courses to train them up.

Available hours for theory and practical tests would also be expanded, and text alerts would be introduced to remind people their test is coming.

There will be a three-month transition period for drivers who have already paid the up-front application fee to progress through their current licence stage.

Tests will no longer be treated like a lesson

A driving instructor collective says scrapping unlimited free re-sits will stop people treating tests like a lesson.

Driving Change Network national director Wendy Robertson said the unlimited free re-sits put unnecessary demand on the testing system, with sky-rocketing wait times meaning many were unable to secure a booking.

“New drivers trying to get their licence so that they can enter workforce, or access the independence a licence gives you, were unable to secure a test booking without long delays, or having to travel to other areas of New Zealand,” Robertson said.

Driving Change Network is a collective of driving educators, many of whom are community providers for people who do not have the resources to learn to drive on their own.

“The long delays meant that they had to provide additional lessons to keep their students test ready, and also prevented them from exiting students from their courses and taking on new clients who wanted assistance to prepare for their licence tests. This compounded in creating additional costs for those programs.”

She said the change strikes the right balance by giving learners a second go, free of charge.

“It also takes into account that often when people sit their practical test for the first time, they have test nerves, so that gives them a second chance.”

But, those taking a test to convert their overseas licence to a New Zealand licence do not get a second free chance, and will have to pay for every additional re-sit.

Robertson said demand for overseas conversion of licence has also placed pressure on the testing system because of free re-sits.

“When the re-sit fees become free, it coincided with twelve months after our borders opened, so a large number of people were utilising those free re-sits for overseas conversions.”

She said the changes should encourage overseas drivers to seek lessons before testing.

“But it also means that new drivers aren’t tempted to use the practical test as a lesson, and encourages them to practice and be test-ready when they go to the testing station.”

The government has also added overtime allowances and sped-up training for testing officers to help clear the backlog of people needing a driving test.

Robertson said it will still take a while for wait times to clear.

“People have been able to book for the next four months, so there’ll be a little bit of a lag, but I am confident that with just one free re-sit, that the no-shows will reduce and people just chancing it when they go for their test will also reduce.”

VIA RNZ

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NZ First Minister Casey Costello orders 50% cut to excise tax on heated tobacco products

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Associate Health Minister Casey Costello has cut the excise tax on Heated Tobacco Products (HTPs), as she aims to make them more attractive as an alternative to smoking.

Costello, who is also Customs Minister, has cut the excise rate on HTPs by 50 percent effective from 1 July – a move silently dropped on the Customs website.

Costello refused to be interviewed by RNZ but a spokesman said she had made the move to reduce the cost of the products to encourage smokers to switch to safer alternatives.

But Janet Hoek, a Professor of Public Health at the University of Otago, told RNZ that the move seemed weighted in favour of the tobacco industry.

“Certainly that is something that tobacco companies would have been keen to see happen,” Hoek said. “This is not advice that is coming from the Ministry (of Health). It certainly seems to be advice that is suiting tobacco industry interests.”

Tobacco giant Philip Morris owns a leading brand in the HTP market, the IQOS, where sticks of tobacco are inserted into a device and heated, rather than burned.

Philip Morris has lobbied for a cut to the excise tax on HTPs, telling the Tax Working Group in 2018 that the government should “establish a tax rate for heated tobacco products significantly below the tax rate” for tobacco.

In a statement to RNZ Costello said that vaping had been a successful quit-smoking tool and she wanted to see whether HTPs would also be a useful cessation device.

“Vaping does not work for everyone and some attempting to quit have tried several times. HTPs have a similar risk profile to vapes and they are currently legally available, so we are testing what impact halving excise on those products makes.”

HEETS are tobacco sticks or refills that are heated in an electronic device, rather than burned like a traditional cigarette.

There is no evidence that Heated Tobacco Products help people to quit smoking, the Ministry of Health says. Photo: 123RF

Documents released by the Ministry of Health show Costello also asked for advice on liberalising the regulation of HTPs but it was opposed to the idea.

“There is no evidence to support their use as a quit smoking tool,” ministry officials told her. “We do not recommend liberalising the way HTPs are promoted. This would likely compound existing concerns about youth uptake and addiction to nicotine products.

rnz

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26-year-old charged after man found dead in car outside vape store

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Police in Auckland have arrested a man in relation to the homicide investigation launched in Mount Wellington at the weekend.

Officers were called to Penrose Road in Mount Wellington about 10.40pm on Saturday after reports of a gun being fired outside a business.

On arrival they found a man dead in a car.

Police have named the man as 22-year-old Texas Jack Doctor.

They say a 26-year-old man has been arrested, charged with accessory after the fact to murder.

He is expected to appear in Auckland District Court Wednesday.

VIA RNZ

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Police pay deal: Commissioner’s advice to cut super payments ‘foolish’

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Police officers are accusing the police commissioner of “robbing our future”, after a leaked email suggested staff reduce their superannuation contribution to save cash after a disappointing pay offer.

The email to police staff from Police Commissioner Andrew Coster suggested officers forgo their contribution to the police superannuation scheme to compensate for the government’s final pay offer not keeping up with the cost of living.

An officer with nearly 20 years’ experience says cops were feeling “unappreciated and despondent”.

The Police Association and the government have been arguing over pay rates for more than a year.

Independent arbitrator Vicki Campbell was appointed in April to decide which of each party’s final offers would be adopted after no agreement was reached in negotiations.

On Monday, she found in favour of the government’s latest offer, which included a $1500 lump sum payment, a flat $5000 pay increase for officers, plus another 4 percent increase in July and the same in 2025.

There would also be a 5.25 percent increase in allowances backdated to last November.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the officer said backdating the allowances to November instead of July – when the previous pay agreement had expired – was one of the biggest bones of contention among officers.

“It’s always months down the track after after the contract expires before we get a resolution. We’ve been sold short and have we just set a dangerous precedent that we won’t get our back pay from when our contract actually ends?” they said.

Another officer, who RNZ agreed not to name, said members of the Police Association had welcomed the arrival of the new government’s Minister of Police – former officer Mark Mitchell – but he was not “walking the walk”.

“I was optimistic given what Mark Mitchell was saying that it would be a better environment for police. He’s good at talking it up but he’s not supporting the staff who are supposed to deliver on his big promises. He’s just talked shit,” the officer said.

Mitchell has defended the deal saying it was the best the government could do. He told Checkpoint on Tuesday officers would be paid overtime for the first time ever.

The officer RNZ spoke to said his family was struggling and he had hoped negotiations would bring some significant relief.

“We live from pay day to pay day. What they’ve done doesn’t give us anything like inflation or most interest rates costs.

“I don’t understand how that’s okay when you have a review for this date, the police stall negotiations, and then somehow move the date back,” he said.

In a leaked email sent to police staff following the decision Coster said the delays to negotiations were compounded by the timing of the election and the change of government.

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